Societal Entrepreneurship

Societal Entrepreneurship

Positioning, Penetrating, Promoting

Edited by Karin Berglund, Bengt Johannisson and Birgitta Schwartz

Stating the importance of both the local and the broader societal context, the book reports close-up studies from a variety of social ventures. Generic themes include positioning societal entrepreneurship against other images of collective entrepreneurship, critically penetrating its assumptions and practices and proposing ways of promoting societal entrepreneurship more widely.

Chapter 1: Introduction: in the beginning was societal entrepreneurship

Karin Berglund and Bengt Johannisson

Subjects: business and management, entrepreneurship, social entrepreneurship, development studies, social entrepreneurship, politics and public policy, social entrepreneurship


We imagine that human beings in historical times were enterprising, climbing the ladder of evolution, inventing ‘tools’ (such as language or the ability to make fire), creating new ways to organize and working out new means to improve living conditions for themselves as well as for society at large. Entrepreneurship/Entrepreneuring we thus view as being as old as human beings’ existence on earth, constituting practices that in many different ways have contributed to what is perceived today as progress. During the industrial era entrepreneurship as progress was associated with growth and material wealth-making. In present times enterprising people who are able to recreate societal structures that enforce sustainable development, environmentally, socially, ethically as well as financially, are much sought after. Entrepreneurship as a societal phenomenon also has a long history, albeit often forgotten in the academic context. As early as the original 1911/12 German version of Theory of Economic Development (1934) Schumpeter put economic activity in a societal context, although the chapter that brought it up was ‘lost in translation’ in the English version. In modern times social issues were re-discovered when the aftermath of the oil crisis in the 1970s challenged the industrialized world. In Sweden the notion of ‘societal’ entrepreneurs was introduced to depict all the enthusiasts who took charge of organizing the needed local recovery processes in peripheral regions. When this research was published in English ‘societal’ was translated into ‘community’ (Johannisson and Nilsson 1989), eestablishing Gemeinschaft values and practices; compare Tönnies (1965). In this vein entrepreneurship scholars have stressed the importance of disconnecting entrepreneurship from the economic sphere (Hjorth 2003; Steyaert and Katz 2004), which has enhanced our ability to view entrepreneurship as a multi-dimensional phenomenon that occurs in society at large (see for example. Bill et al. 2010).